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Frequently Asked Questions about EMDR


What is EMDR?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is an innovative therapeutic treatment introduced by Dr. Francine Shapiro in 1989. It is an integrated, comprehensive treatment that draws from behavioral, cognitive, psychodynamic, body-based and systems therapies.  It is proving to be a time-efficient treatment for a wide range of complaints, and also for the disturbing experiences that underlie much pathology.


How does it work?

We all have disturbing experiences in our lives.   We remember these experiences with the images, emotions and body sensations that were part of the experience.  Usually we are able to resolve these disturbances (during the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep, according to some researchers) and they are no longer a source of distress.


Sometimes, however, a disturbing experience or even just an everyday negative experience does not get processed as usual.  We can think of the experience as getting “stuck” in the nervous system, even though we may not be aware of it.  Images, emotions, body sensations, thoughts, and/or feelings remain in an unprocessed form.  The symptoms or complaints that bring people to therapy are often related to these “stuck” unprocessed experiences.


Eye movements or other bilateral stimulation (such as alternating sounds) used appropriately seem to assist the brain to access the “stuck” information and process it so that the memories remain but are no longer painful.


Although neurobiology has not yet provided a definitive scientific explanation for how EMDR works, studies suggest that the left-right stimulation used in EMDR treatment is linked to REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, dual attention, and or involvement of the left and right hemispheres of the brain.


Who is trained to do EMDR?


The EMDR Institute offers two levels of training:  Level I (Introductory Training), and Level II (Advanced Training).  Only practicing, licensed psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and counselors may receive EMDR training.  These are the only mental health professionals qualified to use EMDR therapy with clients.  A clinical background is necessary for proper application of the EMDR technique.  This is a highly specialized method that requires supervised training for therapeutic effectiveness and client safety.


I have completed Levels I and II of training and have been accepted as a member of the EMDR International Association.


What problems can be helped by EMDR?


Some of the problems which have been helped by EMDR include:

§         Anxiety

§         Depression

§         Trauma (victims of crime; rape; accident victims; victims of natural disasters; people who have witnessed violence: police, firefighters, train engineers, death of a loved one, doctors, lawyers)

§         Post Traumatic stress

§         Childhood trauma

§         Adults abused as children

§         Physical abuse

§         Sexual abuse

§         Emotional abuse

§         Low self esteem

§         Performance and test anxiety

§         Phobias and fears

§         Panic attacks

§         Performance and creative enhancement (athletes, musicians, actors, students, public speakers and executives)

§         Difficulty following through with lifestyle changes (such as diet and exercise)


The EMDR technique is most effective when used in conjunction with other traditional methods of therapy in treating these and many other disorders.


What happens during psychotherapy using EMDR?


Typically, a session begins as the client and I select a specific problem or event as a target for the day’s work (Some complex issues may have more than one target and may require more than one session to resolve. ) The client allows an image, emotion, and/or body sensation associated with the target to come into awareness.  EMDR processing then begins, sometimes using guided eye movements, sometimes other bilateral stimulation such as sound alternating through earphones.


Memories, thoughts, emotions, body sensations, insights – alone or in combination – will surface.  Sometimes I gently guide the client by asking questions or focusing the client’s attention.   Sometimes we pause to talk about what is happening.


EMDR can bring up strong emotions and/or body sensations.  This is not only normal but also desirable – these are a big part of what has been “stuck” or “frozen,” preventing resolution of distress.  It’s important to know that such discomfort is brief and is relieved when the processing is completed.  EMDR makes it possible to gain the self-knowledge and perspective that will enable the client to choose their actions, rather than feeling powerless over their re-actions.  This process can be complex if there are many experiences connected to the negative feelings.  The EMDR therapy sessions continue until the traumatic memories and emotions are relieved.


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